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Flint Residents Scared to Wash Hands Due to Bacterial Outbreak

  • Water plant facility seen in Flint, Michigan.

    Water plant facility seen in Flint, Michigan. | Photo: Reuters

Published 4 October 2016

Once again the city of Flint has to live with the fear of having contaminated drinking and cleaning water.

Residents of Flint, Michigan, two years after their water was contaminated with lead and continues to be, are now afraid of bathing due to a bacterial outbreak of shigellosis, a gastrointestinal illness highly contagious.

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Genessee County, where Flint is located, has reported the most cases in the state with 84 cases of shigellosis, and at least 53 of those cases happened inside Flint city limits. 27 of the cases inside Flint resulted in hospitalizations.

Saginaw County, neighboring Flint, reports the second most amount of cases with 47, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

According to Jim Henry, Genesee County's environmental health supervisor, these problems have changed people’s hygiene habits, since many are afraid of taking a bath and washing their hands and started using baby wipes instead. According to Henry, this contributes to the spread of the shigella.

"But baby wipes are not effective, they're not chlorinated, it doesn't kill the bacteria and it doesn't replace handwashing," Henry said in an interview to CNN. "People have changed their behavior regarding personal hygiene. They're scared."

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Shigella bacteria causes about 500,000 cases of diarrhea in the US each year, is marked by abdominal pain and can lead to dehydration. The bacteria spreads through contact with contaminated surfaces or drinking contaminated water.

In 2014 the city of Flint used water from the Flint River to save money before changing to water from Lake Huron, which resulted in a ñlead contaminations from the corrosive water.

This contamination is believed to be related to an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease which led to 12 deaths in 2014. Flint's water is still not officially safe to drink without a filter.

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